Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Cotton

For the most part, descriptions of cotton clothing before the 1720s are in the context of travels to Asia and Africa.  I was a little surprised to find that cotton was relatively common as a fine fabric from the 1720s, and something that poorer women could purchase second-hand.  It became an affordable kerchief fabric by the 1740s, and the practice of wearing a light muslin gown over a colored silk petticoat can be documented by the late 1750s.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Callimanco

According to the OED, callimanco (also spelled callimanca, calamanco, &c.) is "a woollen stuff of Flanders, glossy on the surface, and woven with a satin twill and chequered in the warp, so that the checks are seen on one side only; much used in the 18th c."  It was finer than stuff, but still respectably simple: a fabric that a woman of the lower middle class could wear without exciting comment that she was living above her means.  Generally, callimanco seems to fall off in use later on in the century, but it seems to have often been used in shoes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

High Life Below Stairs, and Elizabeth Canning

High Life Below Stairs, John Collet, 1763; Colonial Williamsburg Collection G1991-175

I was looking through What Clothes Reveal when I came across this picture again, and my attention was drawn to the three prints on the wall in the upper left-hand corner.  The lower two are of the Empress of Russia and Moll Flanders, very recognizable figures, but the upper one is labeled "Eliz. Canning".  When I first saw the picture some time ago, I didn't think anything of it - I assumed that Elizabeth Canning was another fictional character, like Moll, and passed by. However, this time the name struck a chord, and I remembered that I had come across it in my post on stuff gowns.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Stuff

I was intending to make a post on wool, but the term "wool gown" does not turn up any results on Google Books.  "Stuff gown," however, is a very common phrase.  Meg Andrews defines "stuff" as "a general term for worsted cloths. Twill or plain weave and made of common wool."  A New General English Dictionary (Thomas Dyche, 1768) defines it as "any sort of commodity made of woollen thread, &c. but in a particular manner those thin, light ones that women make or line their gowns of or with ..."

Stuff was a cheaper fabric than linen; while linen was the fabric that a tenant farmer's daughter would wear, her servant would wear stuff.  Poor women and farm workers are described as wearing it, and it is strongly associated with clothing given as charity.  While linen could also connote a respectable simplicity, stuff could not.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Place of Fabrics: Linen

This is perhaps not the most necessary post/series, but I began looking at historical mentions of various types of gowns for my thesis and found so many sources.  I thought people might be interested in seeing the many quotes I turned up that relate to various gown fabrics.

Linen gowns were close to the bottom of the scale, worn by poorer women in the country, under-servants, and wealthier women in the morning, before anyone came to call.  However, linen that had been printed with a pattern was considered much finer (though not as fine as silk).  While linen could be read as evidence of being poor and slovenly, it could also be used as an antifashion statement, showing a deliberate lack of attention to fashion and frivolity and indicating a deepness of character.  This is especially true later in the century, when a simple country look became fashionable.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


The Met redid their website a little while ago, which totally threw off the links to a lot of pictures in my eighteenth century research posts.  I plan to go through and download each picture from the museum website and upload it to Blogger at some point, so that a) I'm not hotlinking and b) I'm protected from link changes, but as it is right now I just went through and relinked them.  So if you started following me fairly recently, you might want to go back through the tag and look at some of them now that they aren't full of blank boxes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Stays and Swatches

Today I got some swatches I ordered from Mood Fabrics, and I thought I'd show them off and give my impressions based on them.  Plus some WIP pictures of my stays.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


For some reason, I sketched out the pink taffeta gown and the interesting corset I examined yesterday.  (I used Patterns of Fashion as a reference for the gown but still managed to make the figure too short in the leg ... not sure how.)  And I thought I'd post the pictures I took of my thesis project pre-ensleeving, in which I look pretty darn happy.

 Please ignore my weird arm position, I think it may have been to make sure you could see the silhouette properly?  Couldn't get a good picture of my back, unfortunately, as it's behind me, but you can sort of see it in the middle picture.  I think the pleats might end too high up my back, but that's very easy to fix so I'm not worried.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Museum Visit - Historic Cherry Hill

Today was my second thesis research visit, this time to the Historic Cherry Hill Collection in Albany.  I found some exciting things!

- A pink taffeta anglaise with petticoat, late 1770s.  It was fairly plain, with some applied scalloped self-fabric trim down the fronts of the skirt and smaller trim at the ends of the sleeves, but what interested me were the en fourreau back.  Instead of the pleats pointing out to the sides, they're aimed at the center back.  I'm not sure I've ever seen that before.  Intriguing!

- An 1820s-1830s corded corset with an interesting construction.  Each side is one piece, with gussets at the bust, and the lower edge ... I'm having a hard time putting it into words.  The corset doesn't come over the hips, but the front is as long as any other corset.  It's rather like a late 16th century-early 17th century pair of bodies.  Singular!

- Best of all, a set of front and back lacing strapless mid-18th century stays.  Sounds ordinary, yes?  But they're made from two layers of unbleached linen with no visible seam allowances.  The pieces in both layers are were put together, and then the seam allowances were turned in and sandwiched between the layers; the pieces were then butted together and overcast, leaving a flat, clean seam.  The front and back pieces were cut with the lacing edges on the fold.  AMAZING!  (They're also not fully-boned - the channels are in groups of two to five.)

There's a constant, ongoing debate over methods of re-enacting: some prefer people to dress their own way, as long as the methods/items are period (downside: if too many people separately use a documented but uncommon piece of clothing, method of fitting, etc., they can give the impression that it was the norm); others prefer people to "portray the common" and consider the number of other re-enactors who dress a particular way, eg. knowing that gowns were more commonly worn than jackets, so not making a jacket if too many of the other women in one's group wear them (downside: if everyone uses the same patterns and goes for the same look, it can feel a bit "cookie-cutter," and then the anomalies are effectively scrubbed out even though they would have existed; also, if the uncommon is being too commonly portrayed, one may never get the chance to try out one's own uncommon garment).  My feelings are somewhere in between.  I think portraying the common is a good thing, and one should keep the common in mind, but the common can be personalized and made one's own without compromising that.  (Unless some particular personalization becomes popular, I guess.)  I wouldn't claim that the features I noticed on the garments I looked at today ought to revolutionize costuming - they're not really the normal way corsets, stays, or anglaises were made.  But they, or variations on them, could be used on occasion to personalize an otherwise common impression.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Open Robes

Hmm ... after going through the Gallery of Fashion, I'm starting to think that those silk open robes were worn with a petticoat.  I had been under the impression that open robes were worn over muslin gowns as a way of dressing them up for the evening - maybe that's a re-enactorism?  I can't think where I've seen it, now that I try to remember, but I guess I'm not doing an open robe as part of my thesis.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

ENORMOUS Thesis Progress!

As my batiste came in the mail a few days ago, I felt that it would be procrastination to continue researching cotton's exact place in society instead of sewing.  Most of the paper is written, apart from the details of my sewing (of course), so I dug out some lightweight linen and worked out a lining based on the dress I saw at the NYSM.  The lining on that gown was mostly detached and unfitted, just something to hide the corset through the outer fabric and sew the pleats to, so it wasn't too hard to replicate.  My dress form is a little smaller than me, kind of tilty and weird-shaped (it has a lot of moving pieces, and they're not all in exactly the right places), and is in a bit of a sway-backed pose, but it's close enough for government work.

The first time I tried draping, I didn't really try it - Mom draped muslin on me and I watched.  So this was really my first try.  I wouldn't be doing it if it weren't for the fact that the gown I examined has a simple cut: one piece for the back, one for the front, and the fitting is done with pleats and drawstrings.  So to start, I made sure the dress form was at the right height, pinned the end of the batiste to the shoulder seam, and cut the fabric level with the floor.  Then I pinned the new end to the back of the neckline, and let the fabric flow out to make a train about a foot long.

After a bit of faffing around, I managed to get three pleats on either side of the center back, angled in to form a triangle.  It actually looks very good!  I started to work on the side seams, but then I realized that I need to do the waist drawstring in the front first, since the channel is a little tuck.  That meant I needed to cut the slit down the front to a few inches below the waist and hem it with running stitches.  I've threaded the channels with tape drawstrings, and they look all right.  Now that I've pinned the side seams in place, I'm kind of surprised at how ... right it looks.  Good feelings, I have good feelings about this!